Krakow has been on my travel wishlist for a long time, and it’s been in contention every time Dr HH and I have planned a trip together. When we moved to Prague, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to finally check it out. It’s a little too far away for a long weekend getaway, so we saved it for the Easter holidays when we could dedicate two full weeks to Poland. Our journey took us on to Warsaw, Gdansk and Poznan, but Krakow was the first stop and the main attraction for us both. I’d heard that it was fantastic for vegans too. So, did it live up to our expectations?
Our airbnb host told us when we arrived that Easter is probably more important than Christmas in Poland, so arriving on Easter Sunday was always going to be a bit problematic. As someone who becomes really grumpy when they’re just a wee bit peckish, I’d spent a few weeks before the trip messaging every vegan eatery in Krakow checking if they were open on Easter Sunday. Cafe Mlynek came through for us, so that was where we started our Polish food adventure. They’re a B&B with a restaurant, in a really good location near the castle. It had a cosy, old-fashioned feel, which would have been lovely and relaxing were it not completely packed – unsurprisingly, given how many places were closed, there were a lot of people looking for a meat-free meal, and I was glad I’d had the foresight to book.
It’s a veggie restaurant, and the vegan options are clearly marked on the menu. There are two vegan starters, but unfortunately they’re both hummus-based, so there isn’t much variety – and we’d already snacked on hummus on our bus ride from the Czech Republic. So we went straight to the mains. There are three types of pierogi, but disappointingly none of them are vegan (Dr HH reports that the vegetarian ones were nice though). I was determined to have something Polish anyway, so I ordered bigos, which was a cabbage and mushroom stew. It was really tasty and had a good kick, but the bread it was served with was a little dry. We were both still hungry afterwards, and I was disappointed to see there was only one vegan dessert which looked to be a raw cake. We were planning to give it a try, but they were so busy that nobody came back for our order – so we went home and snacked there. I’d guess that the service is much better on a normal day. All in all, it was a solid, if unspectacular, start to the holiday eating.
On Easter Monday I finally got my pierogi fix! We went on a trip to the Salt Mines outside Krakow, and returned on the train in the evening. Glonojad is just a stone’s throw from the station, so we settled in there for some more good Polish grub. Again, this was a vegetarian restaurant, with vegan options marked on the menu. I ordered the lentil pierogi, which came with a choice of salads from the counter – the staff helpfully pointed me in the direction of the vegan ones. The pierogi were nice, but not as flavoursome as I would like. The salads had plenty of flavour though and it made for a tasty plate of food.
They also had some gigantic vegan cookies, and I’m not the kind of person who can just walk past those. I like soft, chewy cookies, whereas Dr HH prefers them crispy – somehow, we were both satisfied with these! They were crispy at the edges and lovely and soft towards the middle. They were both full of seeds and oats, and wonderful healthy things like that, so they barely even count as treats really and you’d be perfectly justified in having lots of them. Perfectly justified, I say!
On Tuesday we stayed in Krakow for some of the free museums (a lot of Polish museums seem to have one day with free entry, so it’s worth doing some research). Pod Norenami was close to the Market Square where we went to the Underground Museum, so it was a perfect spot for lunch. Again, it’s a vegetarian place with an extensive, vegan-friendly menu. The food is Asian, as was the decor. The front room was really light and sunny, and the back was dark and atmospheric, and all the artwork and photography had Asian influences. It was a really nice place to spend time.
With such an extensive menu, it was quite difficult to narrow it down. We struggle to say no to sushi, so we got the vegan sushi set to share. There were three avocado nigiri and two shiitake nigiri – you can’t really go wrong with those. There were also three standard maki rolls (nice but never the most exciting part!) and two rolls with cool, creamy guacamole, which I loved. And then two inari, stuffed with rice, carrot and sesame seeds. It was good! The flavours were really well balanced (and the crockery was pretty, which always makes me happy).
We knew a 15 piece sushi set wouldn’t sustain us, so we also got a plate of momos to share. They were small, stout and crowned with a pea, and stuffed with vegetables. They came with a fiery, tomato-based dip, and they were very nice indeed!
They didn’t have any cake in after the Easter weekend, but fortunately I had a trick up my sleeve – Sweet Life, an American-style cafe near the train station. It was a hipster’s paradise, with exposed brick, recycled crates and quirky cushions, but it delivered on the food front, which is all that matters. It’s a nice little cafe that does one vegan cupcake and one sweet pie every day. It also has non-dairy milk for hot drinks, and I was told that all the soups are vegan. Everything is labelled clearly, and the staff seemed to know what they were talking about with vegan options. Most importantly, the cake was delicious! They had chocolate peanut butter as the vegan option when we visited – look at the nice little V for vegan on top! The chocolate sponge was dark, moist perfection, and the icing was the perfect balance of sweet and salty peanut butter. It was sublime! And it’s so close to the train and bus station that you can easily pick up a treat for your travels. This was the best cake we had in Krakow.
We finished Tuesday with some fast food from Vegab. They have a small menu, and small premises – it’s probably intended more as a takeaway, but we timed our visit really poorly, when loads of other people were just arriving to eat-in. We did manage to nab two seats though. They offer a sushi burrito, a hot dog, lasagne or three varieties of vegan kebabs (in fact, everything is vegan). We went for the maxi vegabs, and they were good! The wraps were huge and sturdy, with a generous portion of meat substitute. There was lots of good salady bits in there too, and some nice creamy dressing. This is such a great option to have – a bit different from the falafel wraps that are my usual vegan fast food.
And finally, on Wednesday after a gruelling day at Auschwitz we went to Nova Krova, an all-vegan burger establishment. I had this seitan burger: a huge slab of seitan with a slice of baked beetroot, caramelised onions, leeks and a tasty sauce. The wholemeal bun was good and crispy. It was good and filling, and the baked beetroot was an astonishingly good addition.
Dr HH was a little underwhelmed by his bean burger. The patty was made of smoked tofu and beans, which sounds fantastic – but it was lost in the other flavours, particuarly the plum sauce, which was a bit too sweet for him. Happily, we both enjoyed the root veg fries that we ordered as a side – one portion to share is definitely enough, when you see the size of the burgers!
We finished our trip to Krakow with some cake, of course. There were three options, and Dr HH went for this visually appealing creation. It was a chocolate cake with creamy icing and some jammy fruity pockets, with chocolate sprinkles on the back. He said it was lovely.
And I had this baked cheesecake. There was a chocolatey crust on top, and a blueberry creamy part – it was nice and refreshing, and a good finish to the trip.
Krakow itself had a lot to offer, too. Besides trips to the salt mines and Auschwitz, there is plenty to see within the city. Most importantly for me, it’s a nice place just to wander: we strolled along the river towards the castle, then up to the market square, and everything was beautiful. Just wandering around was my favourite part, though we also climbed the Krakow Mound and got free entry into some of the museums (Underground and Schindler’s Factory, which was so overrun with school groups taking selfies that it was difficult to get a lot from it). We felt like we’d walked for miles by the time we left. We stayed for four nights, but I think it would be possible to squish it into three and just do the standard long weekend. As a city break destination, Krakow was spot on.
As for the vegan scene, I had heard so many great things about it that I had been expecting it to be a little better than it actually was. On our train to Warsaw I asked Dr HH, as I so often do, “What was your favourite meal? How would you rank them? Where would you put those burgers in your all-time burger rankings?” (this exchange probably made him realise how much he needs to replace his lost headphones and broken Kindle). We both came to the conclusion that while everything in Krakow had been good, nothing besides the cupcake had been really exceptional. I would recommend Krakow as a holiday destination to anyone, but I think Poland has better vegan food to offer. More on that next week!